The DWR (Durable Water Repellent) that rain gear manufacturers put on waterproof/breathable rain gear and hard shells is really not that durable. It’s a chemical coating that you need to reapply over and over to make rain water bead on the surface of your rain gear and roll off. It wears off when your scrunch up a garment or it rubs against other clothing inside your backpack.
The number one reason why waterproof/breathable rain gear fails is because the DWR coating wears out and rain soaks the fabric. This process, called wet-out, happens to every eVent or Gore-Tex rain jacket when the DWR wears away, as well of ones made using waterproof/breathable knock-offs like Patagonia’s H2No and Mountain Hardware’s Dry.Q Evap.
When water soaks into the fabric of a rain jacket, you can just forget about breathability. The system is a complete sham but people keep buying into it, including the need to reapply the DWR coating several times a year. It’s the hidden cost of owning a waterproof/breathable rain jacket: the need to keep buying Nikwax TX-Direct or Gear-Aid Revivex to repair the DWR when it wears out so the (really expensive) breathable fabric part of your jacket can work.
Health Hazards of DWR Coatings
But most DWR coatings also suck because they contain flourcarbons or PFCs that have been shown to be a hormone disruptor, like BPA. These chemicals are persistent, and break down very slowly in the environment. They also bioaccumulate, meaning their concentration increases over time in the blood and organs when you eat foods that contains them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every single person in the United States has PFCs in their blood. At high concentrations, certain PFCs have been linked to health problems such as low birth weight, delayed puberty onset, elevated cholesterol levels, and reduced immunologic responses to vaccination.
In the outdoor industry, PFCs are common in water-repellent finishes (DWR) and have long been a precondition for breathable outdoor clothing due to their ability to repel water, dirt and oil. In particular, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two PFCs which raise long-term environmental safety concerns. The European Union has banned the use of PFOS and a future restriction of the use of PFOA is under review. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a voluntary industry phase-out of PFOA in cooperation with the outdoor industry.
But outdoor apparel manufacturers are in no rush to remove PFCs from the DWR coatings they use on waterproof/breathable jackets and are only making halting steps in their phase-out.
Some brands that still include PFCs in their DWR coatings:
- The North Face (target removal by 2020)
- Patagonia (no target date set)
- Gore-Tex (no target date set)
- Arc’teryx (no target date set)
- Most brands do not even acknowledge the issue on their web sites
Brands that do not have any PFCs in their DWR coatings:
- Nikwax (all products)
- Sciessent Curb
The only way to speed up that process is by public outcry and pressure. Take the microwave popcorn industry as an example. When consumers found out that PFCs were present in microwave popcorn bags, food manufacturers were quick to eliminate them. Same with Teflon and Scotchguard. Next time you shop for waterproof/breathable clothing, I suggest you contact the manufacturer and ask about PFCs in their DWR coatings.
Why does DWR suck? It’s making us sick.
If you’re interest in learning more about PFC issues with DWR, here are a few sources with good explanations.
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